Edmonton councillors want to open 200 more shelter spaces as shigella cases rise
A homeless camp near Edmonton's Bissell Centre was dismantled Wednesday morning ahead of councillors voting to support spending millions more to give people a warm place to go.
"This is probably eight times this year they move us. One spot to another," one camper, Neil Shaw, told CTV News Edmonton.
"We're putting roots down. We accumulate things little by little. Next moment, you're gone."
The city had stopped tearing down tent cities for two weeks as part of its response to a shigella outbreak in the core.
Wednesday marked the end of the stoppage. Crews consisted of members of Edmonton's "encampment response team," police, and outreach workers from Boyle Street.
As they close camps, the teams are supposed to help connect anyone showing symptoms of shigella infection with testing and treatment resources.
“This multi-agency, partnered approach ensures that when encampments need to be closed, we are able to provide the safest, smoothest and most dignified experience possible for those who are living there," acting police chief Devin Laforce said in a statement.
“We need to ensure that those who are sick get the treatment they need,” added Tricia Smith, the executive director of the Radius non-profit health centre.
"We can help provide access to those health supports.”
In total, 176 infections have been counted by Alberta Health Services since the first case was recorded in August. Of those, 115 people were hospitalized, an AHS spokesperson told CTV News Edmonton on Wednesday.
The majority of cases have been counted in Edmonton's "inner-city population," which the agency says refers to a "combination of circumstances for folks, including but not limited to Edmonton's vulnerable and houseless population."
As cases have increased, the city has made hand-washing stations and temporary mobile washrooms more available, distributed personal care kits, and helped organize donations of clean clothes.
- City makes more temporary washrooms available to combat Shigella outbreak
- More than 100 'inner-city' Edmontonians hospitalized with shigella infection as outbreak grows
But the people being forced to move on Wednesday have greater things to worry about, Neil said.
"You have to hustle your a** off to survive, brother. Because in one moment, everything'll be fine. And then the next moment, your a** has got to do this," he commented, motioning to the clean-up work behind him. "Constantly. We feel like cattle."
"Shigella?… Whatever. We worry about having somewhere to live. Having somewhere to rest our heads."
CITY'S WINTER SHELTER PLANS
The city "does not anticipate" opening either Commonwealth Stadium or the Spectrum building this winter season as shelter spaces. Both were used as shelters last winter, funded by the province and operated by social agencies.
"There are some infrastructure challenges with the Spectrum building, and Commonwealth Stadium is only available for a limited time," city communications person Noor Al-Henedy said in a statement on Monday.
However, the Alberta government is increasing the number of temporary emergency shelter spaces it funds. Edmonton will have 1,072 provincially funded beds, according to officials. The city was still working to open all of those beds as of Monday.
Several city councillors expressed frustration at the situation during a Wednesday meeting.
"With the snap of a finger, the premier, if she wanted to, could ensure everyone has a safe space to go. Both in the short term, in terms of shelter spaces, but also in terms of a long-term solution getting housing," Ward Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said.
On Wednesday, councillors on the city's executive committee voted 5-0 to recommend opening 200 new shelter spaces at a cost of $7.5 million for the next six months. A final vote is expected next week.
"We as a city right now are basically spending our last dollars on this. We need the province to step up, we need the federal government to be partners with us," Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford said.
A spokesperson for the provincial ministry of seniors, community and social services said Alberta is already spending millions to help.
“Just last month we announced a total of $187 million to tackle these concerns and we are already seeing the benefits of that support. With 450 additional shelter spaces being opened throughout the city, it is clear that this is a priority for our government," press secretary Hunter Baril wrote in a statement to CTV News Edmonton.
As well, the city is supporting aid provided by the Bissell Centre and Boyle Street Community Services and will bus people to emergency shelters during extreme weather.
Homeward Trust says 2,600 Edmontonians are currently experiencing homelessness and more than 1,250 are staying in shelters or sleeping outdoors.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson and Sean Amato
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